There's nothing conservative about Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. But a power attack on offense shielded freshman quarterback Tommy Rees from having to make too many hard decisions after he took over for injured Dayne Crist. As a result, the Fighting Irish rattled off three straight victories to salvage their season.
In his last session with reporters before Friday's Sun Bowl against Miami (1 p.m., CBS), the game plan wasn't given away, but Kelly made it clear that Rees wasn't on a tight leash.
"The one thing that Tommy has been able to get is real experience leading into this game," Kelly said Thursday. "Three weeks of watching film and looking at the mistakes against USC, it's been a great teaching time for him, where you can slow things down a little bit and look at all the things he's capable of doing and things he can do better. I probably feel as confident with his development as any player, because he's had that real experience.
"Going into this game, Tommy has to be part of the equation. We can't go in there and say things like, 'Well, he just has to distribute or he just has to manage the game.' Tommy has to play well. and if we're to win this football game, he has to use the experience he had as a starter and go play the game the way he's capable of."
The Irish offense is bolstered by the return of sophomore receiver Theo Riddick, a versatile player needed against a formidable Hurricanes’ secondary.
"You'll see a much more expanded role for him in this game," Kelly said. "He hasn't been part of our game plan for over two months. He'll be an integral part of what we do."
Now that it's time for the Irish (7-5) to renew an emotional rivalry with the Hurricanes (7-5) for the first time in decades, Kelly assessed his squad one more time.
"I think I know our team fairly well," he said. They're excited about the matchup. When you have the University of Miami, it gets your attention. Our guys are excited about the game. Now, being excited about the game and execution and following through on all the things, that's why there is so much anxiety as a coach going into a bowl game with so much of a layoff. Their battery is fully charged, let's put it that way."